The 20 Best Brunches In Chicago
By Staff in Food on Oct 15, 2014 9:20PM
David Shaftel's much-debated New York Times op-ed about brunch being for jerks wasn't the first time The Gray Lady took a swipe at the "not quite breakfast, it's not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end" craze. In March, Melissa Clark marveled at how name chefs like Wylie Dufresne were jumping on the brunch bandwagon with dishes like Bloody Mary popcorn and mini-pizza bagels. "Chefs successful enough to keep the crowds coming on Saturday night felt entitled to sleep in on Sunday morning," Clark wrote. "But that’s changed. Lately, brunch has become the trend among some of New York City’s most creative chefs, with nary a mimosa or plate of eggs Benedict."
Silly East coast media. The adage goes, "money talks and bullshit walks." Dufresne, like all chefs, want to make as much money as they can. That's what keeps their restaurants open. Even here in Chicago, chefs ranging from the haughtiest of the haute to the most inexperienced line cooks toil on the weekends to keep customers coming back for more "not quite breakfast, not quite lunch." Thar's gold in them thar brunch menus!
Chicago's best brunches is another subject we wrote about last year we felt deserving of a new visit, to see what we missed and what is new in the months since we posted our first list. Read on and you'll see we have a richness of spoils and there may be a slice of cantaloupe waiting for you at the end.
One of the brunch offerings at Lula Cafe. (Photo credit: Mallory Dowd)
How Lula managed to escape last year's list is beyond me. That being said, I’ll take full responsibility since I didn’t throw it into the mix myself. What can I say? This place is an institution, and they’ve been cranking out delicious things for the neighborhood since before Logan Square was a place that people flocked to. They’ve also been dedicated the the localvore, farm-to-table mindset longer than it’s been trendy, offering up things like Brown Sugar Griddle Cakes and house-made pastries, as well as a Cafe Menu full of wonderful lunch staples. What really makes Lula great though, is that the restaurant has evolved with the neighborhood over time. They just celebrated 15 years of business this year, and as someone who’s been going regularly for the last seven of them, I can confidently tell you that the food is as good as it’s ever been. — Jason Baldacci
Lula Cafe is located at 2537 N. Kedzie Ave.
Nestled away on the Far North Side, Broadway Cellars offers a fabulous brunch with bottomless beverages. Every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., for a mere $10 you can have bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys. For $15, you can have as much as you’d like of either. And once you’ve selected a drink, you’ll find a host of original and fairly-priced brunch options to chose from. A personal favorite is the breakfast pasta carbonara, a bowl of linguine with eggs, bacon, peas, and sun-dried tomatoes in Parmigiano Reggiano. — Sophie Day
Broadway Cellars is located at 5900 N. Broadway Ave..
What’s the surest sign of a solid brunch option? The fact that the entire block gets shut down by the Secret Service whenever President Obama comes home might be a good place to start. Valois is not just a South Side institution, it also happens to be a personal favorite of the President. Along with it’s eccentric Chicago murals, Valois has a cafeteria-style lunch line that allows you to watch all the food being prepared as you order. The portions are huge and the price tags are not. If you’re jonesing for some Southern soul food, make the trip to Hyde Park. It will most certainly be worth it. — Sophie Day
Valois is located at 1518 E. 53rd St.
Study the brunch menu at NIghtwood and you may find "Middle Illinois beef and black bean chili, cornbread croutons, sour cream, green onion, runny egg." Yum yum, good. (Image Credit: Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)
The ever-changing brunch menu of Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds’ other restaurant has been a favorite of mine because of its commitment to seasonal ingredients and the dishes that serve as its foundation. Example: you’ll always find two Slagel Farms eggs, homemade tater tots and toast on the menu. Nightwood’s burger is also a mainstay, also served with those outstanding round tots on Sundays. I make reading the menu when Nightwood emails it to its mailing list subscribers every weekend a sport, looking for the little wrinkles in the regular dishes and seeing what the kitchen picked up from local farms and markets the past week. It’s almost like dining in a pop-up shop, only it’s in one of the best restaurants in town. —Chuck Sudo
Nightwood is located at 2119 S. Halsted St.
Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year—shocking for a triangle that still seems a no man's land to outsiders—The Spoke holds a warm place in any West Towner's heart. I'm picky when it comes to spending hard-earned dollar bills on pedestrian fare (especially basic American grub) and the last time I want to make that mistake is the morning after. My persnickety nature is exactly why I choose The Spoke over other so-called brunch options on a Saturday or Sunday. (Or whatever day you wake up with an impending desire to stuff yourself with crispy handcut fries and maybe half a sandwich.) Though egg-y brunch is definitely an option here, why be distracted by scrambles and toast when you can get a famous Fatboy, cooked to your liking, with you-call-it toppings at no extra charge, plus heaping mounds of some of the best fries in the city? Despite my guaranteed internal debate over Po' Boy or not Po' Boy, I usually end up getting the Po' Boy, a charitable heap of lightly fried shrimp smushed into a delightfully crunchy baguette with sliced tomatoes, shredded cabbage, and homemade spicy tartar. The fries are an essential companion, I eat half of each and down two to three cups of coffee, one Bloody Mary (usually the Road Rash, though each is notable and served with a Genessee Cream Ale pony), at least one refreshing draft lager, and numerous glasses of that sweet eau-de-vie (water, duh) leaving little ol' me stuffed to the brim and happy as a clam. Before the sun sets, the contents of that to-go box are nowhere to be found. A fine day's work indeed. — Kristine Sherred
Twisted Spoke is located at 501 N. Ogden Ave.
I just love the neighborhood vibe of this place whether it is on a Thursday night for $4 drafts or for weekend brunch. Running until 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, enjoy $5 Bloody Marys or mimosas to pair with a reasonably-priced entree. The Bloody Mary is lacking in garnishes but still solid and spicy with Zing Zang mix and goes well with the brunch options. The egg white omelet is delicious and a satisfying healthy option while the breakfast burrito is filled with spicy chorizo and is a perfect morning-after choice. The English muffin that holds the perfectly-poached egg, Canadian bacon and spinach stack is crispy and buttery, and a nice compliment to the hollandaise on the Eggs Benedict. If you want to stick to the basics, the two eggs brunch is always a solid, no-frills option giving you an excuse to slather your eggs and breakfast potatoes with their wide selection of hot sauces (if you needed an excuse). — Carrie McGath
Rocking Horse is located at 2535 N. Milwaukee Ave..
When it comes to brunch, I tend towards the savory and indulgent: runny yolks, gobs of cheese, carbs galore and an unsettling amount of butter to settle the rivers of alcohol that are probably still running through my veins. Nothing is more indulgent than an honest-to-goodness Cajun breakfast, and Nouveau Tavern delivers just that. While the menu includes the classics like a crawfish cake benedict and shrimp and grits, you’re best off ordering the nouveau breakfast: two scrambled eggs with bacon or turkey sausage and, the star of the show, their unbelievably fluffy johnnycakes dripping with honey butter and maple syrup. In fact, just order the johnnycakes themselves, then take another order to go. No one will judge you. — Erika Kubick
Nouveau Tavern is located at 358 W. Ontario St.
Some of the coffee selections at Trenchermen.
Some restaurants do brunch better than they do dinner, and my experiences at Trenchermen proves that they’re morning people. Brunch here is great. The beverage menu is loaded with a monthly rotating selection of pour over coffees, which now features HalfWit, Stumptown drip coffee, an essential selection of Rare Tea Cellar teas and libations both classic and distinct like the Wake and Bake with cold pressed coffee, coffee liqueur and Kringle. The food menu offers both shared plates and individual entrees. If you’re in a larger group, I highly recommend snagging a pastry flight and coveting whatever burrata danish is on the menu (which is currently pear). If you get left with the sweet potato cheesecake black-bottom muffin, rest assured that you will not be disappointed. Highlights on the main courses include eggs florentine, coupled with delicious smoked kale and heirloom tomato hollandaise, and the McElhinney muffin, an Irish take on the McMuffin featuring kimchi aioli and beef brisket. — Erika Kubick
Trenchermen is located at 2039 N. North Ave.
Lao You Ju
Dim Sum is like brunch for people who want something a little more interesting than pancakes. People are very opinionated about their dim sum picks and luckily Chicago has many of them. I like Lao You Ju a lot. Their Xiao Long Bao, warm fluffy steamed buns filled with savory porky broth, is outstanding. The other dumpling options are also fantastic, especially the shu mai, which are shrimp dumplings, and the chive dumplings. If you have a hangover, you can’t go wrong with their congee, a brothy breakfast porridge made with rice and vegetables. — Melissa McEwen
Lao You Ju is located at 2002 S. Wentworth Ave.
Owen & Engine
You can get their incredible burger at brunch, as well as a selection of British breakfast classics like the salt beef hash topped with a duck egg or a classic fry up with beans, bangers, and rustic brown bread. One of my favorites is the ploughman’s lunch, a veritable smorgasbord of beef, ham, aged cheddar, and horseradish creme fraiche.— Melissa McEwen
Owen & Engine is located at 2700 N. Western Ave.
Bang Bang Pie Shop
I would never discourage you from having a slice of pie for breakfast, but the real star of Bang Bang Pie shop’s brunch menu is its biscuit. Flaky on the outside, soft on the inside and buttery throughout, you can have them straight up, with gravy or as the decadent bread to one of the many biscuit breakfast sandwiches on Bang Bang’s brunch menu. A quick glance at the rotating menu you’ll see some classic breakfast sandwiches like bacon and egg or sausage and cheese, but you’ll find they come with gourmet toppings like caramelized onion relish, candied bacon and house-made hot sauce. As you might expect these sandwiches are filling, so trust me when I say you won’t have room for pie. but I highly recommend grabbing a slice for the road. — Gina Provenzano
Bang Bang Pie Shop is located at 2051 N. California Ave.
Photo: Red hot lard bacon cream cheese cinnamon roll from Butcher & Larder. (Photo credit: Melissa McEwen/Chicagoist)
The Butcher And Larder
This is my kind of “brunch”—a rotating selection of meaty treats which you can eat at their counter while chatting with the butchers. Then going home with a bag full of sausages and steak. I follow their Facebook page religiously to see what they are putting out each Saturday. It’s a bit unpredictable, but some favorites of mine have been bacon cinnamon rolls, pho, giant slabs of porchetta and spicy bacon bourbon pretzels. — Melissa McEwen
The Butcher and Larder is located at 1026 N. Milwaukee Ave.
I know, how typical that the staff member whose last name ends in "-icz" chooses the Polish spot for her brunch pick. Polak Eatery is a winner though, regardless of your nationality. If you've ever tried the popular Pierogi Wagon's dumplings (both the restaurant and the food truck share owners), then you know what to expect at the new Humboldt Park eatery. But the cozy brick and mortar space is especially appealing now that winter is approaching. It's the portions and prices that really won this bruncher over, though. At $6, the first of two daily breakfast special—2 cheddar pierogis with unlimited toppings, two eggs and half of a kielbasa sausage—was the perfect shade of filling. You can bet I'll be back to sample the second breakfast plate (a sweet cheese and strawberry offering) ASAP. — Katie Karpowicz
Polak Eatery is located at 1043 N. California Ave.
Parts & Labor
The Chicagoist staff visits Parts and Labor for its food quite regularly. Bob's Burgers is cartoon gold. Why pass up the opportunity to consume both at the same time? P&L's new "Bob's Brunch" is just what you'd think: brunchtime burgers, Bloody Marys and the Belcher family. Episodes screenings begin at noon every Saturday and special Brunch Burgers (topped with fried egg, bacon and Logan Square Farmer's Market veggies) designed for this weekly affair will be served. We think the lack of puns in the sandwich’s name was a missed opportunity but that shouldn't affect the taste. — Katie Karpowicz
Parts and Labor is located at 2700 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Photo via Sweet Maple Cafe's Facebook page.
Sweet Maple Cafe
Long before Three Aces arrived, long lines of people queued along Taylor Street to get into one of Three Aces’ neighbors. Long one of the best breakfast joints in town, I like to wait until after 10 a.m. to visit, just so I can technically say I’m having brunch. The timing is key here, depending on whether you’re craving breakfast or lunch. If it’s the former, I tend to favor Dr. Glenn’s scramble, Lurene’s Little Tacos or the Friday catfish nuggets and eggs special. Lucky for all of us breakfast is served all day. If I want lunch, I often opt for the turkey club, the tuna salad or any of the grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu. (Start with the Etruscan and work your way down the menu before attempting to build your own.) Sweet Maple’s simple menus and outstanding execution has made it a survivor on a restaurant row better known for its red sauce joints. Actually, it makes Sweet Maple stand out like a sore thumb. —Chuck Sudo
Sweet Maple Cafe is located at 1339 W. Taylor St.
Sometimes you need a reminder of why brunch steeped in simplicity is a good thing. Adjacent to the revered Empty Bottle, Bite, like its musical counterpart, is cozy and welcoming, despite the quiet decor and similarly toned staff. A slim menu makes your job easy, though inevitably you will turn to your dining partner and say, “Well, what to order?!” The Eggs Duncan is a satisfying take on the classic benedict with a healthy serving of Popeye’s greens creamed with peas, parmesan, herbs and of course two well-poached eggs. While the best part is the dish itself, the $9 price tag doesn’t hurt one bit. Try the delightful poutine or the pork shoulder hash for modern hangover fixer-uppers, or the unassuming breakfast salad: bacon and eggs solve all problems, even with romaine in the mix. However, you’d be most remiss to neglect the seemingly out-of-place bi bim bap. Break the yolk atop that bowl of wild rice, mushrooms, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, and crispy tofu—and stir in the perfectly spicy sesame chili sauce—to understand exactly where it belongs. Dark Matter coffee, a BYO policy, and an under-$30 bill for two equal a hit in anyone’s book. Bonus: Bite is open for dinner with daily specials like a $20 Tuesday Steak Night and Thursday Pork Gyros. — Kristine Sherred
Bite Cafe is located at 1039 N. Western Ave.
Inspiration Kitchen serves up some of the best food in the city and not just for the price. Don’t let the location, ideology or the lack of a high-profile chef fool you. They mean business, though technically they are a not-for-profit. Located near the Garfield Park Conservatory on Lake Street, the rumble of the CTA fades upon entering, where an affable host seats you and your friends, threatens to drink your bottle of champagne (he’s kidding) and introduces a sweetheart server who doesn’t take tips. Gratuity funds Inspiration Corporation’s mission of teaching valuable culinary and self-sustainment skills to previously incarcerated or homeless Chicagoans and assisting them in securing a career in the food industry. These same folks are the ones you can glimpse through the kitchen window, putting out beautifully fried chicken sandwiches topped with fennel slaw, served with well-dressed mixed greens and a side of candied jalapenos. Candied! Benedicts, omelets, gumbo, and daily pancake and French toast specials round out the short but sweet brunch menu. Excellent execution on the cafe’s Southern and soul-inspired menu are what make Inspiration stand out. What the organization does for our city elevates it to an essential gem. — Kristine Sherred
Inspiration Kitchen is located at 3054 W. Lake St.
Chicken and waffles from Longman & eagle (Photo credit: Christine Mendoza)
Longman & Eagle
Brunch doesn’t always have to be an elaborate affair. Sometimes it only needs to include two eggs cooked to your liking, bacon or sausage, home fries and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. And when you don’t feel like cooking that, you can always head to Longman & Eagle and let them do it for you. It will cost you $10, but not having to deal with the aggravation of getting your kitchen dirty is well worth it. And don’t bother skipping the PBR. It will only save you a dollar; recognize a deal when it’s presented to you. Brunch isn’t just for hipsters at L&E. I’ve long been a fan of their duck egg hash, their biscuits and gravy teeming with huge chunks of pork sausage and especially their chicken and waffles, which are among the best in the city. Any of these dishes will wake you up long enough for the trip home, where you’ll succumb to a much-needed food coma. — Chuck Sudo
Longman & Eagle is located at 2657 N. Kedzie Ave.
I like to keep Sundays casual and my brunch no-fuss with bottomless cups of coffee. If the waitress feels a little world-weary and I can get a cinnamon roll worth licking all the icing off my fingertips, so much the better. I’ll also go to my grave believing you shouldn’t have to make a reservation for brunch and there should be enough elbow room at the table to read a newspaper. Few places, then, feel more comforting on Sundays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. than Ann Sather. Portion sizes are also prime for fall overeating, just when you owe yourself a second layer of warmth for winter to come, and Swedish pancakes with lingonberries and a side of sausage links do the trick beautifully. And if there’s anything here you want to make at home in your jammies, Ann has put her famous recipe book all online. —Melissa Wiley
Ann Sather is located at 909 W. Belmont, 3415 N. Broadway, and 1147 W. Granville.
Danny’s Egghead Diner
If you want a celebrity sighting at Danny’s Egghead Diner, you’ll have to look on the TV set behind the counter. Still relatively new to the scene and family-friendly, Danny’s Egghead Diner is not hip or sexy, but who cares. This is brunch, good food is king, and I consider Danny’s menu royalty. Upon arrival you will be seated within minutes, a hot cup of coffee immediately follows. You can order off the main menu or try one of the ever-changing specials, which always includes at least two thoughtful vegetarian options. They’ve got soy chorizo and they’re not afraid to use it. The menu is comprised of classic brunch items with a Mexican twist. Try the Relleno Omelet, packed with grilled Portobello, roasted Poblano pepper, squash, chipotle gouda cheese, and served with a delicious homemade pumpkin muffin, before it leaves the menu. —Allison Kelley
Danny’s Egghead Diner is located at 2012 W. Irving Park Rd.